Friday, May 8, 2020

Scientists say a now-dominant strain of the coronavirus appears to be more contagious than original

Covid-19 illustration, CDC image.

Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Los Alamos team, assisted by scientists at Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England, identified 14 mutations. Those mutations occurred among the nearly 30,000 base pairs of RNA that other scientists say make up the coronavirus’s genome. The report authors focused on a mutation called D614G, which is responsible for the change in the virus’ spikes. (Full Story)

Where the latest COVID-19 models think we're headed

The Los Alamos model is projecting between 81K and 173K deaths in the U.S. by May 30, with an average of 107K. It assumes that there will continue to be interventions such as stay-at-home orders, but it does not specifically assume what those interventions will be. Instead, it considers various possible interventions to arrive at its forecast, which typically results in wider confidence intervals than a model with stricter assumptions. (Full Story)

Model Citizens

Sara Del Valle, LANL photo.

When Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Sara Del Valle gives public presentations on her work, she often shows a clip from the film Contagion, in which a new bat-borne virus swiftly spreads from China to the rest of the world, swiftly and gruesomely killing many and crippling society while scientists race to curtail the spread and find a cure.

"I always tell people, 'Hollywood almost got it right,'" says Del Valle, a deputy group leader and applied mathematician in LANL's Information Systems and Modeling Group and part of the team modeling the COVID-19 pandemic. Where the film errs, she says, is in its portrayal of Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) as the sole epidemiologist investigating the outbreak. (Full Story)

Battling COVID-19 with expertise, technology And materials

Microscopic image of Covid-19, NIH image.

Areas covered include disease detection and diagnostics, epidemic modeling, disease prediction and forecasting, decision support, data collection and integration, and medical measures.

“Over the last several weeks, the Laboratory has taken extraordinary steps to preserve the ability to execute our mission while assisting our surrounding communities, the state, and our nation during this demanding national emergency,” Los Alamos Director Thom Mason said. “Many are looking to the Laboratory for resources including our expertise, technology, and materials to help combat the COVID-19 virus.” (Full Story)

What can epigenetics tell us about sex and gender?

We're used to thinking of DNA as a rigid blueprint. Karissa Sanbonmatsu researches how our environment affects the way DNA expresses itself—especially when it comes to sex and gender.

Karissa Sanbonmatsu is a principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Consortium, where she studies the mechanism of non-coding RNA systems, including ribosomes, riboswitches and long non-coding RNAs. She published some of the first structural studies of epigenetic long non-coding RNAs and is currently studying the mechanism of epigenetic effects involving chromatin architecture. (Full Story)

Laser-driven implosions similar at dissimilar scales

Before CGI, action film makers relied on the principle of scale invariance: a miniature set shot in slow motion looks about the same as a full-sized set shot at regular speed. Now, Joshua Sauppe at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and colleagues have shown that the same principle applies to the hydrodynamics induced in fuel targets by laser-driven inertial confinement. In experiments using two separate laser systems—the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, and the smaller OMEGA laser facility at the University of Rochester, New York—the team reproduced nearly identical hydrodynamic behavior in the fuel, even though the setups operate at very different spatial and temporal scales. (Full Story)

Studying Earth’s double electrical heartbeat

Global lightning chimneys over the Americas, Africa, and the Maritime Continent. NASA image.

Lightning pumps charge into the atmosphere, as do galactic cosmic rays. Electrified clouds that don’t produce lightning shoulder a share of the burden equal to that of lightning. Dust, pollutants, and other particles in the lower troposphere also play a role in the global electrical circuit, as does the changing of the seasons.

“You’re looking at the total integrated effects of all the electrified weather across the globe,” said Michael Peterson, a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico who has studied the circuit with satellite lightning detectors. “People have described it as the electrical heartbeat of the planet.” (Full Story)

Are salt deposits a solution for nuclear waste disposal?

Installation of the infrared heater being tested at a one of the research sites.

In the United States, scientists are studying several solutions for disposing of these wastes. Phil Stauffer and researchers at Los Alamos National Labs have been working with the US Department of Energy and other national laboratories on one long-term, safe, disposal solution—salt.

"Deep salt formations that already exist in the United States are one candidate for long-term disposal," says Stauffer. "This 'high-level' nuclear waste can create a lot of heat, in addition to the radioactivity that must be contained. We need to develop a clear path to dispose of this waste." (Full Story)

Volcanic lightning helps aviators avoid hazardous ash

Volcanic lightning at Redoubt during its March 2009 eruption, by Bretwood Higman.

Bogoslof, a remote Alaskan volcano, pokes only 330-500 feet (100-150 meters) above the Bering Sea. After slumbering for more than 20 years, Bogoslof’s recent eruption began in December of 2016. 

Globally detectable volcanic lightning is not ubiquitous. According to Sonja Behnke, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who studies volcanic lightning, “It seems to be important to have external water to have the ice-charging mechanism.” She explains that Bogoslof has an external water source because its vent is submerged underwater. Similarly, Redoubt has a glacier at its summit, providing an external water source for ice-charging. (Full Story)

Texas A&M, Los Alamos partner to make large data sets easier to handle

The Texas A&M University System National Laboratories Office (NLO) and Los Alamos National Laboratory have formed a collaborative research effort to make extremely large data sets indexable and more easily searchable.

“We are excited to be partnering with our colleagues at Texas A&M on this important and potentially game changing research. This collaboration leverages extreme strengths in data management research from both our organizations,” said Gary Grider, division leader for High Performance Computing at Los Alamos. (Full Story)

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